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Ancient Indian Sine Tables

Pradosh K Roy FIETE , C.Eng.

Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology ,Panipat-132103 Haryana (INDIA)


The genesis of Trigonometry , says the historians of Mathematics [1] , is in the chord table of Hipparchus [ca.190-120BC] , who introduced the Babylonian Sexagesimal Number System and Arithmetic in his table. However , now it is not unknown that the famous Babylonian Plimpton 322 [ca 1900-1600BC][Fig1][2] and the Egyptian Rhynd Papyrus, indicate that these ancient civilizations had a crude knowledge of practical trigonometry some 2000 years before the Greeks [6] , including the Pythagorean Theorem. The Babylonian astronomers of the first millennium BC were known to have accumulated a large number of observations that survived to provide the Greeks and then the Alexandrians with an impetus for early work on trigonometry.

with an impetus for early work on trigonometry ’ . Fig 1. Babylonian Plimpton 322 at

Fig 1. Babylonian Plimpton 322 at the Columbia University

The lost tables of Hipparchus , almost surely consisted of lengths of chords in a standard circle for all angles from 0° to 180° in 7½° increments [6]. Hipparchus might also have known many of the formulæ including the identities


Sin²α+Cos²α =1,


Sin(α±β) = (SinαCosβ± CosαSinβ)


Sin²/2=(1-Cos) [1].

However , the

first major work

which the







Mathematica’ by Claudius Ptolemaeus [Ptolemy] [ca.85-165AD] from the city of Alexandria , intellectual capital of the Hellenistic world. The ‘Syntaxis’ , a summary of mathematical astronomy as it was known in that time , contain few of the author’s own discoveries , rather it is a compilation of the state of knowledge based on the achievements of his predecessors , mainly Hipparchus [1] . The ‘Syntaxis Mathematica’ [Μαθημτικής Συντάξεως βιβλίαιγ] later became known as ‘Almagest’ , an Arabic word meaning the greatest [Al-Majisti] (يطس جم لا) [1] , because it was competing with a lesser work written by Aristarchus [ca.310-230BC] and was seen as superior [6].

The Caliph Abu Ja'far Al-Mansour moved from Damascus to establish the city of Baghdad during the years 762 to 766. Al-Mansour sent his emissaries to search for and collect knowledge. They started a programme of translation of texts on mathematics, astronomy, science and philosophy into Arabic. This work was continued by his successors, Caliphs Mohammad Al-Mahdi and Haroun Al-Rasheed. The quest for knowledge became a lasting and significant part of Arab culture.

Al-Mansour had founded a scientific academy that became called 'The House of Wisdom'. This academy attracted scholars from many different countries and religions to Baghdad to work together and establish the traditions of Arabic science that were to continue well into the Middle Ages. Some of this work was later translated into Latin by Mediaeval scholars and passed on into Europe. The dominance of Baghdad and the influence of the Arab World was to last for the next 500 years. [5]

The scholars in the House of Wisdom came from many cultures and translated the works of Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Hindu and Chinese astronomers and mathematicians. The Mathematical Treatise of Ptolemy was one of the first to be translated from the Greek into Arabic

by Ishaq ben Hunayn (830-910). The first translations into Arabic were made in the 9th century, with two separate efforts, one sponsored by the caliph Al-Ma'mun. Sahl ibn Bishr is thought to be the first Arabic translator. It was admired for its extensive content and became known in Arabic as Al-Megiste (the Great Book). The name 'Almagest' has continued to this day and it is recognized as both the great synthesis and the culmination of mathematical astronomy of the ancient Greek world [5].

In 1175 the Arabic version was translated into Latin , and from then on it would dominate the scientific and philosophical thinking of Europe well into the 16 th Century and its geocentric model of the planetary system became the Canon of the Roman Church [6] .

By this time, the Almagest was lost in Western Europe, or only dimly remembered. Henry Aristippus made the first Latin translation directly from a Greek copy, but it was not as influential as a later translation into Latin made by Gerard of Cremona from the Arabic. Gerard translated the Arabic text while working at the Toledo School of Translators, although he was unable to translate many technical terms such as the Arabic Abrachir for Hipparchus. In the 12th century a Spanish version was produced, which was later translated under the patronage of Alfonso X.

Ptolemy produced a table of chords in chapters 10 and 11 of the first book of the Almagest ,which is essentially a table of Sines i.e. d=2rSin(θ/2) [Table I]. Neither Hipparchus nor Ptolemy used a circle of radius unity. Hipparchus apparently used r=3438, so that the measure of the circumference would be approximately equal to the number of minutes in 360°. Ptolemy takes the diameter of the circle as 120 units , ‘apparently for simplifying the calculations in Sexagesimal system’. Ptolemy’s table gives the chord length between 0° and 180° , in ½° increment , to an accuracy of two sexagesimal places ,i.e. 1/3600 [8] i.e. to an accuracy of five/six decimal places as shown in Table I .








[Actual Values]





37, 27





42, 03





50, 16





53, 49





35, 25




106;55, 15



Table I. Ptolemy’s Chord Table [7]

Ptolemy carried his work further by dividing the interval between successive chords into thirtieths. This effectively allows for the calculation of any chord in one second interval [6]. It may be emphasized that the Ptolemaic table is based on Euclidean Geometry , its ‘logical system of theorems and proofs’ and the Aristarchus’[ca. 310-230 BC] inequality , also known to Archimedes [1] :

Sinα/Sinβ < α/β


π/2 <


< β

But the Ancient Indian contribution in the development of Chord Table is still debated and believed to be limited to ‘tabulating half chord as a function of twice the angle’ [6] under Hellenistic influence [3] , though it has been accepted that the word Sine or Sin has been derived from the word ardhajyā or jyā . This

to attribute Indian

may be due to ‘ A tendency

mathematical ideas to the Greeks and also

because of the sometimes exaggerated claims

Indian accomplishments’ according to

Victor J. Katz.


The objective of this communication , therefore , is to briefly review the Greek and the Indian Chord Tables and to ascertain the accuracy of the Indian Chord Tables based on numerical simulation.

Hindu Chord Tables

The oldest Indian treatise on mathematics and astronomy Sūrya Siddhānta , contains the half chord [ardhajyā] table [8][9] . The age of the Sūrya Siddhānta is still debated , but according to some latest opinions it could not be

later than 700 BC. During the regime of HaroP a g e | 3un-al-Rasheed [786-808 AD] and Al-Ma’mun[813-833 AD] probably the Sūrya Siddhānta had found its place at the House of Wisdom at Baghdad.

Identity of the defining circle is the only similarity between the Hipparchus chord table [1] and the Sūrya Siddhānta half-chord table . But the hypothesis of Hellenistic influence on Indian Half-Chord Table [3] survives even in the 20 th Century.

Table [3] survives even in the 20 t h Century. Fifteenth Verse of Sūrya Siddhānta [Chapter

Fifteenth Verse of Sūrya Siddhānta [Chapter II] which literally means ardhajyā of 225' is 225 i.e. Sine of 3¾°=225/3438 [0.065445026] [Actual Value is 0.065403129]

The couplets of the Sūrya Siddhānta [Chapter II , verses 15-33] , provide the Sine table in multiples of 3¾° and for the intermediate arcs by linear interpolation , using the Decimal System and Integer Arithmetic [8][9] . Moreover , the Versine [Utkramajyā] function , ‘not to be found in either Hipparchus or Ptolemy , means that Cos= Sin(90° - ) has been recognized and used’ [11]. The 19 th and 20 th Century translators and commentators [8][9] have geometrically validated the Sūrya Siddhānta algorithms for the Sine Table . In the absence of the fractional part , the table is an excellent mnemonic.

Whether Āryabhata (I) [b.476AD] of Kusuma Pura [Pātaliputra] , himself constructed the table in Āryabhatīya or whether he took it from Sūrya Siddhānta , which was extant in his time , will remain a matter of speculation [11]. The same table was reproduced in the work of Brahmagupta [628AD] viz. Brahma Sphua Siddhānta.

The Indian quest for an accurate and precise Sine Table seems to have culminated with the Siddhānta Śiromani [8] [9] by Bhāskarāchārya II [b.1114 -1190AD ] in 1150AD. It is a matter of speculation , whether Bhāskarāchārya II was aware of the Ptolemaic Chord Table.

Bhāskarāchārya II in the Appendix of Siddhānta Śiromani provides canons for the construction of the Sine Table , with exactness by mathematical precision , in his own words

[8]. Trigonometric identities which are explicitly mentioned in the canons include :


√ (1 - Sin²)

= Cos






Sin(90° - )=Cos


Sin18°= (√5 -1)/4


Sin36°=(√5- [√5])/8


Sin(45°+/2)=√(1+ Sin)/2


Sin(45° - /2)=√(1-Sin)/2


Sin60°=√3/2 and


Sin(α±β) = (SinαCosβ ± CosαSinβ).

Evidently ,these rules suffice for finding only the Sines of arcs differing by 3° from each other, and not the Sine of the intermediate arcs .

Bhāskarāchārya II proceeds to detail the mode of finding the Sine of every degree of the quadrant viz. the Pratibhāgajyakā Rule from 1° to 90° , assuming that Sin1°= 60. The value of Sin1°=60 [i.e.60/3438=0.017452006] , differs from the exact value 0.017452406 , in the seventh place of decimal. Bhāskarāchārya II might also had recognized the identity :



= 1 , as tends to zero . The defining

circle for the Sine Table of Bhāskarāchārya II is identical [viz. r=3438] to the defining circle in Sūrya Siddhānta and that in Āryabhaṭīya .

A simulation of the Pratibhāgajyakā Rule , when periodically corrected with reference to the above mentioned precise values for Sin18°, Sin30°; Sin36°; Sin45°; Sin60° and Sin75° , is correct to fourth/fifth places of decimal . Since exact values in multiples of are known from the mathematical identities mentioned earlier , it could be ascertained that the rule was used for an approximation of the intermediate arcs.

Exact Differentials

In the context of instantaneous motion of the planets , Bhāskarāchārya II was led to formulate the startling example of a differential ,



The simulated Sine table with δα=1", starting from an

Arc° Simulated Value



18 0.3090170027 0.0000000000


19 0.3255681632 0.0000000133


20 0.3420201525 0.0000000273


21 0.3583679591 0.0000000419


22 0.3746066033 0.0000000570



23 0.3907311388 0.0000000728

24 0.4067366537 0.0000000890


25 0.4226182727 0.0000001058


26 0.4383711581 0.0000001230


Table II. Simulation of Sine Table using δ(Sinα) = Cosα. δα

initial correct value e.g. Sin18° produces correct values with errors of the order of 10 -7 /10 -8 in the vicinity as shown in Table II. We could readily assume that in the vicinity of the exact values the differential formula was used by Bhāskarāchārya II for precision , in combination with the mathematical identities mentioned earlier .

It is a pity that the differential calculus which got such a beginning , five hundred years before Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz [1646-1716] and Sir Issac Newton[1642-1727] ; was not further developed in India [11]. I would like to leave this question for the historians of science.

For the sake of completeness we present a comparison of Ptolemy’s Sine Values with the simulated values using canons of Bhāskarāchārya II in Table III.

In the absence of any conclusive evidence of the Greek influence on Ancient Indian Sine Tables , we may assume that the development of the Indian Sine Table , followed an independent route culminating with Bhāskarāchārya II. Whereas the Ptolemaic table is based on Euclidean Theorems and Corollaries , the Indian efforts from the days of Sūrya Siddhānta relies more on the trigonometric counterparts.

In conclusion we can say that though corroborative evidences validating the intuitive dating of the Siddhānta Era as 7 th Century BC [9] have recently been published [12] , which try to validate that ‘key ideas found in the Babylonian Astronomy of 700 BC are already present in the Vedic Texts which even by the most conservative reckoning are older than that period’, further research and numerical simulation is required to establish that Ancient Indian Astronomical Achievements are independent of Hellenistic Influence. With the advent of COTS supercomputers this does not seem to be impossible. It is also to be further investigated whether Bhāskarāchārya II canons could be used for truly demanding DSP tasks.


Bhāskarāchārya II , the g77 compiler in RedHat ® EL 2. 4.21 -4 Operating System configured on PIV 1.8GHz processor with 512K L2 Cache, has been used. The Intel ® PIV Processor is






believed to be free from idiopathic non- uniqueness.

Arc °












[Syntaxis ]






ā Rule]



22 15







37 27







42 03







50 16







53 49







35 25






106 55 15





Table III .Illustrative

comparison of the Sine Tables of Ptolemy and Bhāskarāchārya II

Selected References.

1.Heath, Sir Thomas, 1921, A History of Greek Mathematics Vol. II , Oxford University Press, p.245-297. 2 Joseph . George G , 2011 , The Crest of the Peacock , Princeton University Press , Princeton , New Jersey , p.392-403. 3.Banerjee,G.N.,1920,Hellenism in Ancient India,Butterworth,London,p.153-171. 4.Toomer,G.J., 1974,The Chord Table of Hipparchus and the Early History of Greek Trigonometry, Centaurus, Vol.18,p.6-28. 5.Rogers , Leo , History of Trigonometry Part 3 , 6.Maor, Eli, 1998,Trigonometric Delights , Princeton University Press, Princeton, , p. 20-40. 7.Plofker, Kim, 2009, Mathematics in India, Princeton University Press,Princeton, p.6., p. 317 326. 8.Sastri, Bapu Deva , Wilkinson,Lancelot, 1861, Translation of the Sūrya Siddhanta and Siddhānta Śiromani Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta , p. 15-17 ,135-137;263-268

9.Swami Vijñānānanda , 1909 , Sūrya Siddhānta , Reprinted, 2006, Sanskrit Book Depot,

10.Clark,Walter Eugene, 1930,The Aryabhatia of Aryabhata, An Ancient Indian Work On Mathematics and Astronomy, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, p.28-29.

11.Srinivasa Iyenger , C.N., 1957,


13.W.W.Rouse Ball , 1915, A Short Account of the History of Mathematics , Mc Millan & Co. Ltd., London , p.96-97 14.Toomer, G.J.,"Ptolemy (or Claudius Ptolemaeus)." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. 15 Jun. 2013 ,


The History of Ancient Indian Mathematics, World Press , Calcutta , p.46-56,91-93,

Calcutta 700006 ,p.44-51,p.327.








Biographical Notes

[Compiled from Plofker, Kim, 2009, Mathematics in India, Princeton University Press,Princeton, p.6., p. 317 326 and

Āryabhaṭa (I) : Author of the Āryabhaīya and a lost work using a midnight epoch, which became respectively the primary texts of the Āryapaka and the Ardha-rātrika-paka. Aged twenty-three after 3600 years of the Kaliyuga, corresponding to 499 CE (hence born 476), which is not necessarily the date of composition of either of his works. Refers to “the knowledge honored in Kusumapura,” which his seventh century commentator Bhāskara I identifies with Pāliputra, now identified with modern Patna in Bihar. Bhāskara I also calls Āryabhaṭa the one from Aśmaka,” apparently referring to a region between the Godavari and Narmada rivers in central India, and the sixteenth century commentator Nīlakaṇṭha asserted that he was born there. Thus his native area and his later place of residence may have been different.

The myths and misunderstandings about Āryabhaṭa ’s life and work are legion, and some of them are many centuries old. Allegations that he was a leader in the renowned center of Buddhist University of Nalanda in medieval Bihar all seem to be ultimately extrapolated from his reference to Kusumapura and from an unattributed verse calling him a kulapa, “chief” or “head.” He evidently advocated an astronomical model with a rotating earth, but not a heliocentric system[7].



Author of the Līlāvatī, the Bīja-ganita, the Siddhānta Śiromani with auto-commentary (in Śaka 1072 or 1150 CE at age thirty-six), and the Karaa-kutūhala (epoch date Thursday 24 February 1183), as well as a commentary on the Śiya-dhī-vddhida-tantra of Lalla. The first two works are sometimes considered part of the third. From the above data, he must have been born in 1114 CE. Member of the Śāṇḍilya Gotra. An inscription commemorating the establishment of a school in 1207 under the leadership of his grandson for the study of his works lists several generations of his ancestors and descendants. Refers to his father and teacher, Maheśvara, as a resident of a city called Vijjaavia in the Sahyādri mountains, that is, the Western Ghats between the Tapti and Godavari rivers. Some of his ancestors and descendants are associated with the courts of various rulers in central and western India, so Bhāskara too may have been a court astronomer. His connection with an observatory at Ujjain is undocumented. So is the existence of his daughter after whom Līlāvatī was allegedly












Brahmagupta : Author of the Brāhma-sphua- siddhānta (at the age of thirty in ´Saka 550 or 628 CE; hence born 598), the earliest surviving treatise of the Brāhma-paka; the last chapter is a separate karaa

work, the

grasping teacher,” a pun on graha, “planet”), with epoch date at the vernal equinox in Śaka 550, or 21 March 628. In the text he mentions his father by name, Jiṣṇugupta. He also composed a karaa called Khaṇḍ a-khādyaka following the Ardha-rātrika-paka, with epoch date falling in 665 CE. The ninth-century commentator Pthūdakasvāmin calls him “the teacher from Bhillamāla,” now identified with Bhinmal near Mount Abu in Rajasthan. As he makes a general reference in Brāhma-sphua-siddhānta’s one of the verses to showing celestial phenomena to “the people or the king,” it is conjectured that he may have been a court astronomer under the ruler Vyā - ghramukha of that place and period. There is no known reason to connect him with any observatory at Ujjain. The alternative translation of the first two words of the title Brāhma-sphua-siddhānta (“Corrected [sphua] siddhānta of Brahman”) as “Opening of the universe” seems to be based on a modern misreading of “Brahma” for “Brāhma.” [7].


of “Brahma” for “Brāhma.” [7]. (“Thought - Var ā hamihira . Author of the Pañca-siddh ā

Varāhamihira. Author of the Pañca-siddhāntikā, which is a summary of five earlier astronomical works, and several immensely popular astrological texts. Some of the works summarized in his Pañca- siddhāntikā use an epoch date corresponding to 505 CE, and Brahmagupta refers to him in the Brāhma- sphua-siddhānta of 628 CE, so he is inferred to have lived sometime in or around the sixth century. Member of the Maga Brāhmaṇa group descended from Iranian Zoroastrians, a native of the Avantī region in central India, and a resident of Kāpitthaka (location unknown). He mentioned the city of Ujjain as lying on the prime meridian, but there is no explicit evidence linking him to any putative observatory or other astronomical institution there [7].

Claudius Ptolemaeus[Ptolemy] [ca.85-165AD][15]

Very little is known of Claudius Ptolemaeus [Ptolemy's] life. It was claimed by Theodore Meliteniotes in around 1360 that Ptolemy was born in Hermiou (which is in Upper Egypt rather than Lower Egypt where Alexandria is situated) but since this claim first appears more than one thousand years after Ptolemy lived, it must be treated as relatively unlikely to be true. His name, Claudius Ptolemy, is of course a mixture of the Greek Egyptian 'Ptolemy' and the Roman 'Claudius'. This would indicate that he was descended from a Greek family living in Egypt and that he was a citizen of Rome, which would be as a result of a Roman emperor giving 'reward' to one of Ptolemy's ancestors. He made astronomical observations from Alexandria in Egypt during the years AD 127-41. In fact the first observation which we can date exactly was made by Ptolemy on 26 March 127 while the last was made on 2 February 141


It is known that Ptolemy used observations made by 'Theon the mathematician', and this was almost certainly Theon of Smyrna who almost certainly was his teacher. Certainly this would make sense since Theon was both an observer and a mathematician who had written on astronomical topics such as conjunctions, eclipses, occultations and transits. Most of Ptolemy's early works are dedicated to Syrus who may have also been one of his teachers in Alexandria, but nothing is known of Syrus[15].

Ptolemy’s chief work in astronomy, and the book on which his later reputation mainly rests, is the Almagest, in thirteen books. The Greek title is μαθηματικὴ σύνταξις which means “mathematical compilation.” In later antiquity it came to be known informally as ή μεγάλη σύνταξις or ἠ μεγίστη σύνταξις (“The great [or greatest] compilation”), perhaps in contrast with a collection of earlier Greek works on

elementary astronomy called ἀςτρоνоμоύμενоς (“the small

μικρо ς


collection”). The translators into Arabic transformed η̒ μεγιστη into “al-majisti,” and this became “almagesti” or “almagestum” in the medieval Latin translations. It is a manual covering the whole of mathematical astronomy as the ancients conceived it. [14].



The work , commented Rouse Ball , is a splendid testimony of the ability of the author [13] , is divided into thirteen books. In the first book Ptolemy discusses various preliminary matters ; treats of trigonometry, plane or spherical ; gives us table of chords, that is, of natural sines (which is substantially correct and is probably taken from the lost work of Hipparchus) ; and explains the obliquity of the ecliptic ; in this book he uses degrees, minutes, and seconds as measures of angles. The second book is devoted chiefly to phenomena depending on the spherical form of the earth : he remarks that the explanations would be much simplified if the earth were supposed to rotate on its axis once a day, but states that this hypothesis is inconsistent with known facts. In the third book he explains the motion of the sun round the earth by means of excentrics and epicycles : and in the fourth and fifth books he treats the motion of the moon in a similar way. The sixth book is devoted to the theory of eclipses ; and in it he gives 3° 8' 30", that is 3 17/120, as the approximate value of it, which is equivalent to taking it equal to 3. 1416. The seventh and eighth books contain a catalogue (probably copied from Hipparchus) of 1028 fixed stars determined by indicating those, three or more, that appear to be in a plane passing through the observer's eye : and in another work Ptolemy added a list of annual sidereal phenomena. The remaining books are given up to the theory of the planets[13].

In the words of G.J.Toomer ‘As a didactic work the Almagest is a masterpiece of clarity and method, superior to any ancient scientific textbook and with few peers from any period. But it is much more than

that. Far from being a mere “systematization” of earlier Greek astronomy, as it is somethimes described, it is in many respects an original work


The Almagest became known in western Europe through Gerard of Cremona’s Latin translation from the Arabic in 1175 (a version made in Sicily from the Greek ca. 1160 seems to have been little known). The arrival from Islamic sources of this and other works based on Ptolemy led to a rise in the level of Western astronomy in the thirteenth century, but until the late fifteenth serious attempts to make independent progress were sporadic and insignificant. The first major blow at the Ptolemaic system was Copernicus’ De revolutionibus (AD 1543). Yet even this work betrays in its form and in much of its content the overwhelming influence of the Almagest. However great the cosmological implication of the change to a heliocentric system, Copernican astronomy is cast in a firm Ptolemaic mold. This influence was not broken until Tycho Brahe realized that the “reform of astronomy” must be based on systematic accurate observation. So he compiled the first star catalog since Ptolemy based entirely on independent observation

Revised 2013 ver 1.2 Pradosh K Roy

(earlier star catalogs, such as the famous one of al- Sufi, epoch 964, had been mostly repetitions of Ptolemy’s with the addition of a constant of precession; star coordinates independent of Ptolemy, such as those in the list of the Zij al-Mumtahan compiled at the order of al-Ma’mun, are very few in number); Brahe was also able to make the first real improvements in lunar theory since Ptolemy. Most important, he provided Kepler with the essential material for his treatise on Mars, justifiably entitled Astronomia nova. Kepler’s work finally made the Almagest obsolete expect as a source of ancient observations.

Ptolemy’s other works are Geographia , a compilation of what was known about the world's geography in the Roman Empire during his time ; Tetrabiblos , an astrological treatise ; Harmonics, an influential work, on music theory and the mathematics of music and Optics , a work that survives only in a poor Arabic translation and in about twenty manuscripts of a Latin version of the Arabic, which was translated by Eugene of Palermo (c. 1154). In it Ptolemy writes about properties of light, including reflection, refraction, and colour [16].